Phrases Matter When Discussing Alcohol Points: A New Stigma-Free Vocabulary for Higher AUD Outcomes


Phrase alternative could seem misplaced among the many myriad elements that may affect outcomes for a fancy situation like alcohol use dysfunction (AUD). The truth is, the stigma created by the language that’s used to explain alcohol issues can lower many individuals’s willingness to hunt assist for alcohol issues. It can also have an effect on how folks with AUD are handled in all features of life.

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“Stigmas are the damaging attitudes towards folks which are based mostly on sure distinguishing traits,” says Nationwide Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Director George F. Koob, Ph.D. “Greater than a decade of analysis has proven that stigma contributes considerably to damaging well being outcomes and may pose a barrier to looking for remedy for psychological sickness or substance use issues.”

In america, almost 90 p.c of individuals with substance use issues and 35 p.c of individuals with severe psychological sickness don’t obtain remedy. In a current article revealed in Neuropsychopharmacology, Nationwide Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D.; Nationwide Institute of Psychological Well being Director Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D.; and Dr. Koob talk about how folks with a psychological sickness or substance use dysfunction who expertise stigma could start to internalize it, resulting in decrease shallowness, decreased curiosity in looking for assist, and worsening of their signs. The researchers additionally level to evidence that stigma-related bias among clinicians can contribute to a treatment-averse mindset and to flawed medical care, together with failure to implement confirmed strategies of remedy. Research have proven that utilizing scientifically correct language and phrases that centralize the expertise of sufferers with psychological sickness and substance use issues is one key part to decreasing stigma. Such efforts can enhance how folks with these circumstances are handled in healthcare settings in addition to all through society.

“Though extra evidence-based treatment options for AUD can be found in the present day than ever earlier than, stigma is an element that stops some folks from reaching out for assist and from being handled with dignity,” says Dr. Koob. “Understanding that AUD is a medical situation and selecting our phrases rigorously when discussing alcohol-related issues are essential steps towards altering the dialog and decreasing stigma round AUD.”

Dr. Koob explains that we can assist alleviate the stigma related to alcohol-related circumstances by constantly utilizing non-pejorative, non-stigmatizing, person-first language to explain these circumstances and the people who find themselves affected by them. Some phrases which are generally utilized in society, similar to “alcoholic” and “alcohol abuse,” may be stigmatizing.

Some Beneficial Language for Decreasing Alcohol-Associated Stigma

When discussing alcohol-related points, use these phrases to assist scale back stigma:

  • Alcohol use dysfunction as a substitute of alcohol abusealcohol dependence, and alcoholism. Of their current article in Neuropsychopharmacology, Dr. Koob and his co-authors famous that the time period “abuse” stays within the names of Nationwide Institutes of Well being (NIH) Institutes that research dependancy. They added that there’s elevated curiosity—each within the scientific neighborhood in addition to among the many affected affected person populations—in seeing these names modified to mirror present understandings of dependancy as a treatable dysfunction.
  • Alcohol misuse as a substitute of alcohol abuse when referring broadly to ingesting in a way, scenario, quantity, or frequency that would trigger hurt to the one who is participating in ingesting or to these round that particular person. For some people, any alcohol use constitutes alcohol misuse.
  • Individual-first language to explain folks with alcohol-related issues similar to:
    • Individual with alcohol use dysfunction as a substitute of alcoholic or addict
    • Individual in restoration or particular person in restoration from alcohol use dysfunction as a substitute of recovering alcoholic
    • One that misuses alcohol or one that engages in alcohol misuse as a substitute of alcohol abuser and drunk
  • Alcohol-associated liver illness as a substitute of alcoholic liver illness. Using “alcoholic” as an adjective could perpetuate stigma for folks with alcohol-associated liver illness and different alcohol-related well being circumstances.
  • Alcohol-associated hepatitisalcohol-associated cirrhosis, and alcohol-associated pancreatitis as a substitute of alcoholic hepatitisalcoholic cirrhosis, and alcoholic pancreatitis.

To study extra about how the language we select can assist scale back alcohol-related stigma, please go to NIAAA’s Words Matter web page. And whereas all NIAAA supplies mirror the “Phrases Matter” ideas, the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator offers a one-stop useful resource for studying about AUD and its remedy. The Navigator additionally exhibits folks find out how to acknowledge high-quality remedy suppliers and find out how to search a number of nationwide directories of remedy packages and specialists.

Kelly, J.F.; Saitz, R.D.; and Wakeman, S. Language, substance use issues, and coverage: The necessity to attain consensus on an “addiction-ary.” Alcoholism Therapy Quarterly 34(1): 116–123, 2016.

Kelly, J.F.; and Westerhoff, C.M. Does it matter how we confer with people with substance-related circumstances? A randomized research of two generally used phrases. Worldwide Journal of Drug Coverage 21(3):202–207, 2010. PMID: 20005692

Volkow, N.D.; Gordon, J.A.; and Koob, G.F. Selecting applicable language to cut back the stigma round psychological sickness and substance use issues. Neuropsychopharmacology 46(13):2230–2232, 2021. PMID: 34276051

Han, B. Key Substance Use and Psychological Well being Indicators in america: Outcomes From the 2019 Nationwide Survey on Drug Use and Well being (HHS Publication No. PEP20-07-01-001, NSDUH Collection H-55). Rockville, MD: Heart for Behavioral Well being Statistics and High quality, Substance Abuse and Psychological Well being Providers Administration; 2020. Accessed January 13, 2022.

Thornicroft, G.; Rose, D.; and Mehta, N. (2010). Discrimination towards folks with psychological sickness: What can psychiatrists do? Advances in Psychiatric Therapy 16:53–59, 2010.


This text first appeared in NIAAA Spectrum.

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